By Godwin Onyeacholem
In its habitual unscrupulous fashion, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Nigeria’s crooked ruling party that likes to fraudulently describe itself as Africa’s largest party with all the deceitful boldness it could muster, recently remembered 14 years of its pathetic existence, thirteen of which it has spent superintending a fantasy wrongly called democracy. Though there was nothing in the sense of revelry, an outdated bombast nonetheless issued from two of its privileged but windy officials obviously seeking to add to their foul relevance.
The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, and the Niger State governor, Babangida Aliyu, at different times reflected on the life of PDP since 1998. But not to mince words, the duo told blatant lies about the influence of their party since the commencement of the Fourth Republic in May 1999. To paraphrase a reported statement credited to the governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Danladi Ndayebo, not only has PDP returned Nigeria to the path of sustainable development and steady economic growth, it has – for the first time – put the country on an unremitting forward march to the Promised Land. Party officials, elected or appointed (selected is more appropriate in both circumstances), the statement continued, have laboured unstintingly to infuse fresh ideas into all sectors of the economy. How true!
And not one to be eclipsed in the art of grand sophistry, Metuh weighed in with his own malicious deceit. In appraising his party’s performance over the years in question, the PDP spokesman had no second thought about blaming the “economic meltdown” that reared its head just about the second half of 2008, not his inept party, for the horrendous shape in which the Nigerian economy finds itself since it took over from the military.
As a result of the global economic recession, said Metuh, Nigerians could not benefit from the mammoth transformation they expected from the PDP. He sang the praises of his party as a credible national party which would soon deliver on its promises of improving the lives of the people. You could almost hear some incurable critics saying, Na Today? And betraying that enduring absence of edifying thought within the party leadership, he went on to quote an aphorism attributed to General Muhammadu Buhari, when he was Head of State in the 80s. But Metuh would not deign to credit the General, who is now leader of the rival CPC, with this popular saying.
However, the truth about the decisive failure of the PDP as a ruling party is apparent even to the most even-handed critic of the prevailing indulgent civil rule. Without seeming to conjure untenable evidence from abstract reality, let us begin with a concise yet wholesome scrutiny of the three administrations which the party has bequeathed Nigerians in the last 13 years.
First was the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. Having been put forward by the military-feudal oligarchs mainly from the north of the country, Obasanjo burst onto the political scene on the charming wings of presumed rectitude as a result of his voluntary surrender of power to the civilians in 1979 when he was a military Head of State, as well as his intermittent outburst against military regimes in latter years. That notion of integrity was reinforced by his inaugural speech in 1999 which promised a sweeping departure from the dreadful legacies of past military juntas. While it seemed to be so initially, subsequent events vividly proved that nothing changed. Obasanjo, the luckiest man ever to govern Nigeria, had the greatest opportunity to transform, re-create and re-invent the country and write his name in gold. What did he do? He bungled it.
His administration created two agencies, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to combat corruption, but they turned out to be tools for hunting down perceived opponents. There was no tangible prosecution and eventual conviction of the real big thieves in the society. Under Obasanjo’s watch, corruption rose sharply with himself and his vice president. Atiku Abubakar, leading the binge. Of course, the looting of funds belonging to Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) by the two henchmen and the shameful mutual recriminations that culminated in a temporary parting of ways for both cannot be forgotten so soon.
Still under this PDP government, the value of naira plummeted and manufacturing companies wound up steadily; some of their abandoned factories were bought over and converted to churches in the face of the upswing in modern-day Pentecostal opportunism occasioned by debilitating economic stagnation. All the paradigms designed to kick-start the dying economy, be it NEEDS or SEEDS, were never felt beyond the pomp ceremonies that marked their launch. Infrastructural decay assumed a more disturbing dimension. Obasanjo spent much of his first four years junketing under the pretext of looking for investors. But no serious investor took interest in a country where basic infrastructure and critical social amenities were virtually non-existent.
Yet during this period, the country raked in from crude oil sales the kind of money it never made since independence. It was an era that really brought home the sorry paradox of one of the world’s leading crude oil exporting countries that imports petroleum products from less-endowed countries. Instead of fixing the derelict refineries in order to stop importation, the administration retained the odd choice of fuel importation because it offered party leaders and their friends and supporters the gaping hole for siphoning the country’s funds. And the cheek of it: the pump price of petrol was jacked up a couple of times, thus inflicting more pain on the teeming poor. Naturally, Obasanjo invited a few standoffs from the workers’ union.
On the political front, the administration had only negatives to leave behind. In its copybook, there was no place for free, fair and credible elections. The worst elections ever conducted in Nigeria happened under the supervision of Obasanjo, as testified by local and international observers. And instead of quitting honourably after the statutory two terms in office, he sought to finagle a third term for himself. To achieve this inordinate desire, he reproduced and nurtured on a massive scale the monster he promised Nigerians that he would tame: bribery and corruption. Though virtually all legislators in the National Assembly were bribed with no less than N40million each to favour constitutional amendment to that effect, the plan still did not succeed. For this, Nigerians will continue to thank some principled lawmakers.
Smarting from that loss, the ex-General declared that the last election that would see him out of office would be a “do-or-die affair.” And it was, indeed. To say the 2007 elections were rigged is to be lenient. There were no elections in the proper sense. Thankfully, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, may he rest peacefully at the feet of his Maker, the man whom Obasanjo singlehandedly anointed as his successor, confessed that much in his inaugural speech. He promised to do something about this and started, even if half-hearted, a process of electoral reform. To be fair, he was down with sickness for much of his little over two years in office before he passed on. There was, therefore, nothing concrete to ascribe to his administration in terms of style of governance.
President Goodluck Jonathan, who was vice president, became president with the death of his boss. He completed Yar’Adua’s tenure and audaciously trampled on his party’s constitution to contest the 2011 presidential election. It was another sham called election which was supervised by PDP who gave the electoral umpire no choice but to declare its candidate winner. Not a few point to his indiscretion concerning the decision to contest as part of the reason for heightened insurgency in the north. Now, after one year as stand-in president and one year and four months as elected president, Jonathan has proved to Nigerians that he cannot rise above his party and some well-connected friends outside government to serve the interest of the people. This is the toxic effect of the awkward foundation laid by the first PDP administration.
To rephrase the question the Republicans are asking American voters as they get set to confront the Democrats in November elections, are Nigerians better off than they were 13 years ago? The answer is emphatic NO. Up till this moment, there is no concern and regard for the people. There is stealing, looting and impunity across the land. If the ruling PDP say they were truly voted for, they never exhibited the spirit of to whom much is given much is expected.
Look around PDP, there’s no icon. Forget Metuh or the Niger State governor. The best way to find out what a party would do is to find out what it has done. No question, the country is worse off than it was in 1999 when the party took over. Surely, this PDP can’t make a case for Nigeria’s future.
Godwin Onyeacholem is a journalist based in Lagos